Pete Sixsmith ought to have been a professional football writer, as his priceless accounts at Salut! Sunderland demonstrate season after season. He could have had travel writing as a sideline, as this description of a grand day out on the trains of northern England also shows. Mind, he isn’t a bad teacher by all accounts so society probably feels it is getting the best of all worlds from the sum of his contributions. Back to that day out: there’s always something waiting to spoil life’s pleasures and Pete ran into it at Brunton Park (there’s a clip of the goals at Darlington to make up for it) …
One of the perks of being an oldie is that there are all kinds of transport deals aimed at we Silver Panthers. Bus passes, rail passes, coach passes – you name them, Sixsmith has them nestling in his travel pass wallet. And boy, do I use them.
The latest bargain that I took advantage of was a 4 from 8 Northern Rail Rover. For the princely sum of £60.75 (with a Senior Rail Card) I have a ticket that covers the entire North-eastern side of England from Berwick to Sheffield and throws in the Settle-Carlisle line as well. It means that with a bit of careful planning you could have morning coffee in Middlesbrough, lunch in Leeds, afternoon tea in Todmorden and supper in Shildon, should such culinary travelling be to your taste.
I opted for Monday in Scarborough for a day’s cricket at North Marine Drive, the most glorious cricket ground in England, with its high terracing and the views of the backs of the Victorian guest houses in Trafalgar Square.
It was a steady day as Yorkshire piled on the runs, doing little for the fragile confidence of the former England tyro Steven Finn. The runs accumulated by Williamson, Lees, Gayle and Leaning set the Tykes up for an excellent win on Tuesday and propelled them to the top of County Championship Division 1.
Tuesday dawned bright and clear, as the Victorian novelists tell us; bus to Darlington and then the 9.13 Cross Country to Leeds, a pleasant run down and then a stroll across the bridge that bisects Leeds station to catch the 10.19 to Heysham Port. This was a Northern Rail relic that seemed to have most of its seats broken by the number of hefty northern behinds (mine included) that had been placed on it over the years. Still, no need to worry about the comfort of passengers as the franchise is up later this year. Some other company can sort that one out.
I left the train at Keighley, a town I have never visited other than for Rugby League at Cougar Park (or Lawkholme Lane for the purists). It had once been a place of some quality as seen in the impressive raft of late Victorian civic buildings but, like many smaller English towns, is now struggling.
It has some distinguished former citizens. Dennis Healey was born here, Kiki Dee lived here (look up her song, Loving and Free, stunning and no Elton John on it) and I looked in vain for a blue plaque showing me where Mike Hellawell, former Sunderland winger and Warwickshire batsman, took his first steps in life.
A pint of Timothy Taylor’s Dark Mild in The Boltmakers Arms – a proper name for a pub – and I was back on the 13.12 to Settle, an attractive run up through Skipton, Gargrave and Helliwell and the start of England’s finest railway line.
There are as many reasons for living in Settle as there are reasons for not. It has a Booth’s Supermarket, Karine Polwart is appearing at the Victoria Hall, the scenery is staggering and there is a strong community spirit. These virtues made me want to sell Sixsmith Towers to a Russian oligarch and move.
On the other hand, Pennine Buses have gone bust leaving the town with two buses a day, some of the shops are a bit twee and there is not a lot of non-league football in the immediate vicinity. Settle Rovers v Giggleswick Wednesday doesn’t strike me as a must-see game.
A stroll around the town, some lunch and back on the 15.45 to Carlisle, a much better offering from Northern Rail this time as the seats were comfortable, mostly filled by walkers, tourists and locals who had been lured by the fleshpots of Skipton for a day’s shopping.
Off it went, across Ribblehead viaduct, through the 1.75 mile long Blea Moor Tunnel, stopping at Horton –in-Ribblesdale, Dent (a mere four-mile stroll into the village and its wonderful brewery), Kirkby Lonsdale (where the Skipton shoppers got off), Appleby and then a succession of Viking villages (Langwathby, Lazonby, Armathwaite) before it pulled into Carlisle Citadel station, three minutes behind schedule.
The weather was glorious, the views were magnificent and the railway was a triumph of engineering: all in all a perfect day out in England. I commend it to you.
Which is more than I can do for the 90 minutes that followed at Brunton Park.
There were 1,400 Sunderland fans in a crowd of 3,300 and I can’t think that many of them went home satisfied. That we won was down to the enthusiasm and determination of the Development Squad who came on en masse on 60 minutes and proceeded to dominate a tiring Carlisle United. Mikael Mandron’s goal won the game for us, although I wouldn’t dream of mentioning that he was offside – twice – in the move leading up to it.
Their enthusiasm and fizz was in direct contrast to the lacklustre performance put in by most of their elders and betters for the first hour (though see the clip below for some neat finishing in the Darlo friendly – Ed). Smart saves from Mannone kept out a decent looking Carlisle side for whom David Amoo looked far sharper than the internationals on our team.
Poyet’s assertion that he “wasn’t too worried about the quality on the ball” prompted one of our party to say “bloody good job” as the ball retention and distribution was poor. Some of those involved will clearly be leaving as soon as possible (Cabral, Diakite, N’Diaye – a condemnation of the Martin O’Neill period), although Moberg-Karlsson showed some promising touches and may resurrect his career at Sunderland.
Still, never read too much into friendlies. This was a warm-up game before they set off for Portugal and a week’s hard work. Tonight at Hartlepool, those who did not play will get their turn and may just put that little bit more into their game as the youngsters from last night cast envious looks at their first team squad places and salaries. Look out for Mandron this season – last year he was blighted by injuries but he looked good at Carlisle.
Travelling home courtesy of Sobs, we crossed the A69 as the sun was setting. Looking across to the Whin Sill (a mixture of limestone and dolomite (or even dolerite, as Sobs mentions in Comments – Ed) as the geology graduate informed me), I reckoned that I had at least had a day where I had seen England at its finest. Soon, at this rate, I’ll be reading the Daily Mail and voting UKIP.
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